If you love caring for animals, becoming a wildlife rehabilitator could be the most rewarding career decision you ever make.
There’s no feeling in the world quite like nursing an animal back to health and then releasing it back into the wild where it can thrive.
Animal rehabilitation jobs aren’t for everyone – they require extensive training, education, and expertise.
Here’s how to become a wildlife rehabilitator and what day-to-day animal rehabilitation jobs look like.
How to become a wildlife rehabilitator
Before explaining how to become a wildlife rehabilitator, it’s important to let you know that you need to be up-to-date on your vaccines.
You’ll be coming into contact with wild animals so you need to take all the proper precautions. If you aren’t sure which vaccines you need, check with your doctor or local wildlife rehabilitation center.
After you get all your vaccines in order, follow these tips on how to become a wildlife rehabilitator:
1. Volunteer at a local rehabilitation center
Your goal is to gain some experience in the field. When you start out, you’ll probably be assigned office work, cleaning, or food preparation.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get hands-on experience with the animals immediately – the center needs to make sure you can do the job correctly.
Make sure you always show up to your shift on-time and demonstrate that you’re open to learning more about possible wildlife rehabilitator jobs in the future.
2. Pursue a degree or certification
Ask your local center what types of degree or certification they recommend. A formal college education isn’t necessarily required for animal rehabilitation jobs, but It can’t hurt to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in biology or ecology.
You’ll want to cover courses in mammalogy, animal behavior, and ornithology. The goal is to learn about how animals live and function. Check with your local center to find out if they recommend specific topics unique to the region you live or work.
3. Contact your state wildlife department
Each state has specific requirements for becoming a wildlife rehabilitator. These requirements could include specialized education, proficiency tests, veterinary training, and experience working in the field through volunteer work.
After you meet their qualifications you can apply for your license through the state Game and Wildlife Department.
4. Find your dream job
Keep your options open and stay flexible. Many locations may not offer you a full-time position right away.
Consider looking for jobs in other states if you’re willing to move and learn about animals in new locations. Make sure to receive a license in other states if you plan on moving.
Animal rehabilitation jobs and wildlife rehabilitator salary
If you aren’t keen on living in the wilderness, that’s okay because most wildlife rehabilitator jobs are in heavily populated areas. This is because there is more human-animal interaction in these areas so the animals require more care.
You can look for jobs either in the public or private sector. Private sector jobs could include non-profit organizations since it’s illegal to charge a fee for wild animal rehabilitation. In the public sector, you could find jobs at the federal, state, or local level.
No matter where you find a job, you’ll need to be flexible, self-motivated, and willing to learn.
Wildlife rehabilitator salary
Unfortunately, the median wildlife rehabilitator salary is only about $22,000. Keep in mind, this figure could include volunteers who receive a $0 salary as well as higher-paid wildlife rehabilitators with years of education and experience.
If you’re determined to make a career out of wildlife rehabilitation, it’s definitely attainable.
On the bright side, the job outlook is pretty good. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 20% increase by 2026 for all animal rehabilitation jobs and service workers.
A day in the life of wildlife rehabilitator jobs
Each center has a broad range of needs to fill so your day-to-day job will depend on what kind of work the center needs from you.
Talk to other workers and supervisors to determine what type of work would work best for you. If you aren’t comfortable getting your hands dirty every single day, you can still complete office work and help out as-needed.
Daily tasks could include:
- Answering phones
- Managing finances and records
- Public education
- Cleaning cages
- Nursing animals
How to become a wildlife rehabilitator: getting started
If you aren’t sure what to do next, look for your local wildlife rehabilitation center. Pay them a visit to ask some questions. Find out what kind of work they do and what they recommend for education.
Next, check out the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association for grants, programs, scholarships, and other education opportunities.